The Other Sister

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Other Sister Movie Poster Image
Overly sentimental movie is unlikely to interest teens.
  • PG-13
  • 1999
  • 130 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

People with differences and/or disabilities deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  Loving someone asks that you give them the freedom to be their best selves. Likewise, good parenting requires that you love your children as they are, not as how you would like them to be.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mentally-challenged young adults sometimes have assets and resources that may be unexpected. Given a chance to grow and flourish, some special-needs people are able to function independently and live safely. Teachers, employers, and co-workers are portrayed as supportive, helpful, and caring.


A child, upset by a group of other children who are teasing her, pushes one of them down a flight of carpeted stairs. He is not injured.


The issue of mentally-challenged young people engaging in sexual activity is a main story element. The two people involved read and study The Joy of Sex to educate themselves. "Doing it" is a repeated euphemism for intercourse. The couple kisses, undresses to their underwear, and moves off camera to make love. Another character is involved in a monogamous lesbian relationship, the acceptance of which by her family is another plot point.


Though there is no swearing or harsh language, sexual terms are used on a few occasions: "penis," "semen," "sperm," "vulva," ""doing it.""



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social drinking: dinner table, wedding. One main character gets drunk on two occasions and his outrageous behavior affects the story's outcome. Another character is identified as a recovering alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this film explores the challenges that a family faces when their developmentally-disabled daughter fights for independence and reacts to her own growing sexuality. The filmmakers take great care to introduce the young lovers (both of whom are mentally impaired) to sex in a mature and sensitive way. There is some kissing and they begin to undress, but with no actual nudity or foreplay. Language includes some terms associated with the human reproductive system.  "Doing it" is the only way sexual intercourse is described. A young woman is seen in bed with her female sexual partner, and their lesbianism provides a separate challenge to some members of the family. There is alcohol consumption in social settings, and the young male lead purposefully gets drunk on two occasions and misbehaves.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byStepMomSterToo June 23, 2010

Good for older kids

The relationship aspects of this movie make it a great family movie for older kids, but I am a little worried about the subject of sex. If you aren't comfo... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

After a decade in a special school for developmentally-disabled kids, Carla Tate (Juliette Lewis) comes home to her upper crust family in San Francisco. As Carla struggles to assert her independence and a strong desire to find her own path, her overprotective and often insensitive mother, Elizabeth (Diane Keaton), tries to keep her safe, quiet, and out of the public eye. Elizabeth believes she loves her husband and children, especially Carla, but guilt, embarrassment, and pride send her in the wrong direction at nearly every turn. Carla persists, however, and with her father and sisters on her side, is allowed to enroll in a trade school where she meets with measured success and encounters Daniel McMann (Giovanni Ribisi), another mentally-challenged student. Their initial friendship changes... they fall in love. This new intimacy and the prospect of Carla becoming an autonomous adult despite her limited capacities threaten Elizabeth's control and the entire family dynamic.

Is it any good?

Despite the vibrant performances of Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi and some touching scenes between the two, THE OTHER SISTER is predictable, sentimental, and very heavy-handed. Subtlety and nuance are nowhere to be found in Garry Marshall's direction, particularly notable in the performances of Diane Keaton and Tom Skerritt as Carla's father. Characters change positions in a flash and learn lessons instantaneously. What might have been grace notes (Daniel's love of marching bands and Carla's connection with animals) are instead hammered home at every opportunity.  The only virtue is a skin-deep message about accepting differences and treating even "special" people with dignity.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about some of the different ways people react to Carla's disabilities. Discuss specific family members as well as outsiders.

  • Daniel seems to have almost no family support system. What resources did he use to make a surrogate family? What does that reveal about Daniel's ability to live on his own?

  • How did Elizabeth (Carla's mother) change over the course of the movie? How did what she learned from Carla help her be a better mother to Heather?


  • How accepting and tolerant do you think people are when they come across others who have disabilities or special needs? Do you think this movie depicted the general public accurately? Do you believe everyone at Caroline's wedding would have laughed at Daniel's speech? Think about how you would have reacted.

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate